The Magic Jungle
City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong
City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: July 19
Jean Bunton's musical tale The Magic Jungle, performed by the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, was presented as part of the International Arts Carnival's programme for children aged three and older: not an easy audience to keep interested for the work's full hour; harder still with 15 minutes of reprises at the end.
The performance began well with members of the orchestra entering into the spirit, costume and greasepaint. Conductor and arranger Bill Connor proudly sported his lion's tail, the double basses peered gamely from behind elephant trunks, while other players happily accommodated an assortment of horned appendages.
The plot tells of how the bad girl of the jungle, the snake (Leanne Nicholls), transforms herself and the orchestra's cacophony into beautiful music. The goal was 'edutainment' to introduce youngsters to orchestral instruments. The framework was a mixture of story-telling, demonstration, song and dance, humour and an aid to learn English. With slicker packaging, the variety could have held the packed hall's attention; without it, the focus in the 17 scenes wasn't always clear.
As the singing narrator, Matthew Hale worked overtime to keep the momentum, as did Chili Leung Wai-ho as Max the Monkey, who whisked urbanite teenagers Tim (Benjamin Schrader) and Rosie (Chu Pui-ying) to the jungle adventure-land, where their farewell duet stole the show.
The opening 25 minutes were absorbing but passages of dramatic and musical stasis couldn't prevent it from wandering. Extensive repetition, gaps in dialogue and weak material (especially the storm scene) were problematic. Not even the oboe's long, serpentine solo could charm the children back to order.